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Song

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Publication date
1740
Language
English
Comments
[Roud 1; Child 200; G/D 2:278; Henry H124; Ballad Index C200; Bodleian Roud 1; Mudcat 1654; trad.] The date is for the first known publication of this Scottish ballad as "Johnny Faa, the Gypsy Laddie" in Ramsay's "Tea Table Miscellany". The song is known under many names (The Seven (Yellow) Gipsies, Raggle Taggle Gipsies, etc) and is probably best known (particularly in the United States) as "Black Jack Davy/David".

In this ballad, a fine lady is abducted or abandons her husband (and often children) to go with the gypsy laddie. She is pursued by her husband, but refuses to return to her fine home, preferring the gypsy (abducted or not). In some versions, the lady is retaken by force and the gypsy (or sometimes, gypsies, including accomplices) are hanged.

Child considered this ballad to be historically based in the expulsion of the gypsies from Scotland in 1609, and the hanging of a prominent gypsy, Johnny Faa, for returning or failing to leave Scotland. There is no account, however, of any expelled gypsy taking a great lady. At some point, a localized and/or corrupted version of the ballad was published that used the name of Lord Cassilis as the wronged husband, resulting in a story springing up that Lady Cassilis had merely acquiesced in her marriage to Lord Cassilis, while being in love with Johnny Faa. The story goes that Faa and a band of gypsies eventually came to take her. The group (including Lady Cassilis) was apprehended, the gypsies were hung, and the lady locked up by Lord Cassilis for the remainder of her life. Child, himself, debunks this story as ahistorical.

Scholarship after Child's time strongly supports the idea that "The Gypsy Laddie" is not a historical ballad but, rather, belongs to the ballads based on medieval romance. More specifically, there is strong support for the conclusion that this ballad actually originated as a humorous rewriting of the far more obscure ballad "King Orfeo" (Child 19), which it quickly surpassed in popularity.
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